State Board of Education accepts guidance on school reopening

The State Board of Education on Wednesday accepted the K-12 reopening guidance but board members said local school boards will be making final decisions on how to start the school year and those choices will be tough.

Meanwhile, Gov. Laura Kelly has scheduled a news conference at 3 p.m. today (July 15) with Kansas Education Commissioner Dr. Randy Watson and Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Dr. Lee Norman to talk about the upcoming school year. Kelly ordered schools closed in mid-March, which forced schools to switch mostly to online instruction. Please follow KASB on social media for developments from the news conference.

State Board members approved the “Navigating Change 2020” document on a 9-0 vote. Board member Steve Roberts was not present.

State Board members repeatedly emphasized that the document did not contain any mandates and should be used only to assist school districts.

And board members said local school boards will be facing tough decisions on how and when to reopen schools during the pandemic while there exists a wide variance of public opinion.

“I do not envy our local boards of education,” said State Board Member Janet Waugh of Kansas City, Kansas.

State Board members said districts must address numerous decisions while the spread of the virus changes daily.

For example, Board Member Jim McNiece of Wichita asked what happens if a student gets off the bus at school and has a temperature. How would you separate that student from the rest of the students and staff and how would you get that student home, he asked.

“How long is it going to take for a district to get organized to do the things you presented?” McNiece asked, adding, “I want to warn the public, this isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s going to require resources.”

Board Member Ann Mah of Topeka said some districts are probably ready to open now while others have a lot of work to do in buying equipment, renting other facilities and training staff. There is nothing that mandates when a district must start school, she noted.

Mah also said she has gotten numerous emails from teachers with questions and urged districts to do a better job of communicating with staff.

Earlier, co-chairs of the Operations and Oversight Committee of the Navigating Change document spoke to the board.

Valley Center USD 262 Superintendent Cory Gibson described the document as one that local districts can use to pick and choose what they want and need to reopen schools safely and in a way that all students are learning.

Shannon Ralph, a science teacher at Gardner-Edgerton USD 231, emphasized Navigating Change provides flexibility for districts unique in size, makeup and spread of disease. “Here are some tools; take them and use them the best for your district,” Ralph said.

Some of operating guidance for schools include:

— Students above fifth-grade, staff and school visitors should wear masks;

— Everyone should wash hands every hour;

— Social distancing of at least six feet should occur wherever possible;

— Students and employees who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 should be prohibited from school;

— Meal service periods should be extended to allow for fewer students in the serving area at one time.

— Staff temperatures should be taken daily. Families should be responsible to take the temperatures of their children.

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